It's time to talk to your kids about safe apps
Not long ago a typical back-to-school supplies list included Hilroys, Campfire notebooks and #2 pencils. Nowadays, many kids also carry smartphones and tablets, replete with a host of apps used for a range of purposes largely unknown to parents.
Police in Sarasota, Fla., recently launched a campaign to warn parents of 15 apps kids should avoid. The “apps to watch out for” list has made its way north of the border, with the Abbotsford, B.C. police department now cautioning parents about apps that can be dangerous for kids and teens.
Some of the apps are familiar — such as WhatsApp or Snapchat — but others like Calculator% (which is not a calculator at all, but is used to hide photos, files and browser history), Badoo, MeetMe or Skout (location-based dating apps) have no business being on a kid’s phone.
WHY THE FEAR OF UNKNOWN APPS?
The top problem with many of these apps is that they track your location, so they can lead to real physical harm. Another issue is the potential for psychological damage: when your child is online, anyone can access them at any time, leaving them open to cyberbullying, coercion into sharing intimate images, and more scary things.
Kids are smart and can easily bypass age restrictions on app registration forms, so it’s tough for parents to know whether the content their children see is appropriate.
FROM THE BIRDS AND THE BEES TO TWITTER AND BUMBLE
Because of how quickly technology changes, it’s impossible to keep apprised of every single new app on the market and how it’s used. That’s why we think the best way to protect your kids is to talk to them about safe apps. This means discussing apps in the same way you’d talk to them about sex: as part of life, but as containing a world of new challenges to navigate.
It may sound strange, but there’s a lot of overlap between apps, and sexuality and dating. Teach kids that when they’re in an emotionally aroused state their decision-making might be compromised, and it’s easy to do things you’ll regret online.
If you don’t educate your kids about this, no one else (or the wrong person) will.
CHECKLIST FOR PROTECTING YOUR KIDS ONLINE
Set age limits: Don’t give unrestricted access to connected devices to kids under 13. If your kids do have access to these devices, lock it down and set parental controls.
Teach, don’t track: Parents may be tempted to track their kids’ location. Our suggestion? Don’t! If you can track them, a hacker can too. And if kids learn you’re tracking them, you’ll lose their trust, creating more problems down the line.
Explain to kids that free is never really free: Even free apps that are just for fun can have consequences. If you’re not paying in money, you’re probably paying in personal data.
Visit the app store, read the terms and conditions: We know, it’s boring, but there are crucial details contained in these forms that can majorly impact your children’s privacy.
Education is key in protecting kids and teens. Talk to them about safe apps and encourage open discussion about what they’re doing online.